On health care

I've been sick this week and haven't gotten half of the stuff done that needed doing. I'm feeling better now, but it's Friday and I really wish I could get the last couple of days back.

I haven't been able to do much of anything because I've been hopped up on Mexican penicillin. Yes, that's right. For those of us who don't have health insurance, what would otherwise be a minor, inconvenient bacterial infection can become a health crisis. Usually, if I get sick, I just go to the health center at the university. But since I'm not taking classes this summer, I was out of luck. Fortunately, Max's parents live in El Paso, aka "Juarez North", so they were able to overnight me some foreign antibiotics of questionable origin.

Did you know that penicillin and other related, commonly used antibiotics are OTC medications in Mexico? You can buy them like you buy cough syrup and ibuprofen over here. It poses some interesting questions.

On the one hand, with the outrageous administrative costs associated with American health care ("administrative costs" are estimated to account for 70% of US health care costs), wouldn't it be great if patients could treat some of the more common and familiar illnesses ourselves? It could save millions of dollars annually, and tons of time. Think about it. Let's just take bladder infections, scourge of women everywhere. Women who get bladder infections usually get them a lot. We're talking several times a year, here. Since it's a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics, treatment usually involves a trip to the doctor. This doctor's visit probably costs about $150 to $200, and is usually paid for by insurance. They go like this:

Patient: "Doc, I have a bladder infection."
Doctor: "Geez, again?!?"
Patient: "Yeah, I know. Trust me, I'm thrilled."
Doctor: "Okay, lemme fix you up."

At this point the doctor writes 2 prescriptions, one for the symptoms (which, by the way, is available OTC in the form of Uristat), and an antibiotic for gram-positive bacteria. An antibiotic, which is, in all likelihood, cheaply available and would probably cost less than your copay if you weren't forced to buy it through your insurance. The question, then, is this: Is having a doctor write that prescription worth the $200 visit, plus medication copays and costs, plus the administrative costs of scheduling the appointment, filing the insurance claims, etc.? Maybe not.

But, on the other hand, what about the issue of over-use and over-prescription of antibiotics? If we had commonly used antibiotics available OTC in the US, would we be breeding a mess of super-bacteria, which are resistant to our antibiotics and will usher in a dark age of medicine where TB and the Bubonic Plague kill millions? I guess it's possible, but I really don't think so. I may be in the minority, but I hate taking pills and I won't take antibiotics unless I really have to and I know they'll work. There is no way I'd take the "Ampicilina capsulas" I've been taking if I wasn't SURE they'd fix my problem. But I can certainly see how some people might start taking OTC antibiotics at the first sign of a sniffle, just in case.

I suppose, for us, it is a mystery that will forever remain unsolved, mostly because no one cares to look into the progress of perceived "super-bacteria" in Mexico. There's too much money to be made by keeping the system the way it is.

On a completely different note, we brought home 2 baby ferrets on Tuesday! They're the cutest things, ever. I'll post pictures of them (Grendel and Flynn) later.